Description of Historic Place
The Royal Bank Building consists of a one-storey, granite-clad Classical Revival structure at a mid-block location on the west side of Government Street in Victoria’s historic Old Town, with a three-storey façade at the rear, facing Langley Street.
The Royal Bank Building is a superior example of an Edwardian-era Temple Bank. The Classical Revival style was ideally suited to the mood of financial institutions during the Edwardian era, who appreciated its allusions to stability and strength. The Temple Bank was a wide-spread phenomenon, and throughout the province, on the main streets of virtually every community, these 'temples' were built in the service of commerce, and were seen as an important symbol of civic pride and progress. From a different perspective, Canada's pre-eminent early humourist, Stephen Leacock, observed in My Financial Career that such buildings were both rattling and humbling. The Royal Bank was originally even more imposing, with a second storey that was removed in a 1950s renovation. An oval art glass dome that was a central feature in the banking hall was also lost at that time, when a suspended ceiling was installed to modernize the interior.
The Royal Bank Building was designed by prominent local architect Thomas Hooper (1857-1935), who undertook a number of local commissions for the Royal Bank. The design of the front façade was provided by acclaimed New York architects Carrère & Hastings, who were responsible for many famous buildings, including the Beaux-Arts New York Public Library, 1911. This was not an isolated connection - Carrère & Hastings also provided designs for Royal Bank projects in Winnipeg, Alberta, New York and Port of Spain, Trinidad - but their involvement in this project indicates the importance of the Victoria commission within the context of British Columbia. The Royal Bank Building is also a notable example of masonry construction, with an all-granite façade and two enormous Doric columns each weighing eleven tonnes, that was undertaken by the prominent local firm of Luney Brothers.
Illustrating the changing uses in the Old Town area and the significant role that historic buildings play in the downtown economy, this landmark structure has been rehabilitated as Munro’s Books, described by author Allan Fotheringham as 'the most magnificent bookstore in Canada, possibly in North America.' In 1963, Jim Munro and his first wife, Alice Munro, set up shop in a long, narrow space on Yates Street, near Victoria's movie theatres. Basing their success on the sale of paperbacks, at a time when many traditional booksellers refused to carry them, the store relocated to larger premises on Fort Street in 1979 and then to its current location in 1984. Although the interior had been modernized, the 1984 rehabilitation captured its former glory, augmented by modern features. including the commissioning and hanging of eight large fabric banners depicting The Four Seasons by artist Carole Sabiston. This award-winning rehabilitation provides a convincing demonstration of the social value of the historic buildings of Old Town. Rehabilitated buildings such as this play a critical role in revitalizing the downtown economy, in providing new residential accommodation and in environmental sustainability.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Royal Bank Building include its:
- mid-block location on the west side of Government Street in Victoria’s historic Old Town, with a rear façade facing Langley Street
- continuous commercial use
- formal, monumental and symmetrical form, scale and massing, as expressed by its one-storey front façade, flat roof, and three-storey rear façade, built to the property lines with no setbacks
- Edwardian era Temple Bank design, as expressed in its: two giant order Doric columns flanking the recessed entry; engaged pilasters; projecting cornice with block modillions; arched entry with keystone and multi-paned metal transom; and central granite stairs
- masonry construction, including granite block cladding on the entire front façade, and red-brick side walls
- interior features, such as: the voluminous banking hall, with cast plaster coffered ceilings, engaged tapered pilasters with Composite capitals and oval opening that originally held an art glass dome; and other interior rooms such as the original manager’s office beside the front entry